Federal Judge Grants Class Action Status to Migrant Child Detention Lawsuit

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 02, 2019

A lawsuit filed on behalf of thousands of migrant children detained by federal immigration officials was granted class action status last week, allowing the case against the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to continue. The lawsuit claims that the ORR is contravening federal laws enacted to protect migrant children by promptly reuniting them with their parents or loved ones in the United States while their immigration cases are heard.

"ORR has implemented the sponsorship process in an opaque and arbitrary manner, lacking sufficient notice and opportunity to be heard," according to the lawsuit, "and designed to stymie -- rather than facilitate -- the release of detained immigrant children."

Opaque and Arbitrary

The Trump administration's separation of immigrant families has been controversial from the start. Initially designed to deter illegal immigration, several courts have ordered the government to reunite children with their parents as soon as possible. The children involved in this case however, traveled to the United States on their own, and adults have volunteered to act as sponsors for the children and house them so that they need no longer be detained at government institutions while their immigration cases are adjudicated.

But that hasn't been easy, according to the lawsuit:

Family members or other sponsors seeking to open their home to a child in ORR custody must submit to an opaque process with shifting goalposts; with no delineated timelines whatsoever; which includes procedural steps designed solely to facilitate immigration enforcement against the sponsor, to the detriment of the child's interest in speedy release from detention and in family unity; where the primary decisionmaker, a case manager, has tremendous subjective discretion and unreviewable power to deny a sponsorship application; and which (unless the sponsor is the child’s parent) results in no written decision and no opportunity for appeal. Meanwhile, the children are trapped in highly restrictive government-controlled facilities, as if they were prisoners serving out criminal sentences without any semblance of due process.

Children as Bait?

The lawsuit also claims ORR agreed to hand over information on family reunification efforts to ICE, presumably to help them arrest and remove undocumented immigrants. "Judge Brinkema's decision today sends a strong signal that the court is deeply concerned about the government's use of child detainees as bait for immigration enforcement," said Sal Bezos, lead attorney in the case.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) also lauded the decision. "The court's granting class certification today ensures we will be able to continue to fight for the children who languish in detention centers across the country," said SPLC deputy legal director Mary Bauer. "As we move to the merits of this lawsuit, we look forward to exposing the perverse government policies that keep children locked up and separate them from their families."

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